AFI Fest 2017: Hostiles FILM REVIEW
Director: Scott Cooper
Manuscript: Donald E. Stewart
Screenplay: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster
Rated R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes
**** out of *****
Photo: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) is ordered to escort a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and his family through dangerous territory in Scott Cooper's HOSTILES.
There's no denying that the frontier in the 1800s was a brutal, unforgiving and often inhospitable place. Countless films and television shows have depicted it as such but the historical record truly shows you just how hard it really was back then. It can be easy to take for granted how our modern creature comforts or technology have made our lives simpler but none of them even remotely existed back then. However, the one constant that hasn't changed through the centuries is the human condition. At the heart of Scott Cooper's western HOSTILES is whether someone's view of someone or of a people can change especially if the opposing parties have been engaged in a long and brutal war.
Comanche. Apache. Cheyenne. Sioux. Pawnee. All indigenous people, all natives of this land but all are not the same. Some are peaceful while others can be merciless and violent. The world view back then was quite simple; you're an Indian regardless of your tribe and as had often been said "the only good Indian is a dead one." In general no real distinction was made between tribes and in the eyes of the people they were all alike and should be regarded in the same way they regarded us. It's not hard to recognize the distinct modern parallels at play here but those comparisons are more in service of the story as opposed to being preachy and on-the-nose about it. Bottom line they are just like us; they are human, they are flesh and blood and they regard what we hold most dear with the same level of compassion and conviction. However, can both sides see beyond their deep-seeded hate and rage to recognize that?
Christian Bale stars as Capt. Joseph J. Blocker, an Army captain who is forced to escort his enemy and insure safe passage for this man and his family. Chief Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi, has been involved in confrontations with Blocker where the latter had lost friends and fellow soldiers at the hands of Chief Yellow Hawk's tribe. The battle-weary Blocker has his reasons to dislike the Chief but he has a duty and must carry it out regardless of his personal feelings. Bale and Studi are excellent as the two opposing leaders forced together by a sense of duty and honor. One is fast approaching the end of his career while the other is fast approaching the end of his life. The two have seen enough bloodshed in their lifetimes and both actors effectively convey the weight of their pasts and the mutual respect they do in fact have for each other. From the non-verbal gestures to the two of them speaking Cheyenne you do get a sense of the change within these two enemies without them having to make a public scene of it. They understand each other. They get it. For them, life is all that matters. They're just men. Just flesh and blood. Rosamund Pike also stars as Rosalie Quaid, a woman whose family was brutally butchered by a Comanche war party. She is exceptional as a conflicted woman struggling with the shock and grief of her loss and the fact that she must travel with these Indians whom she doesn't trust. These three characters are at the center of the drama and the three leads carry the film through every twist and turn which occurs as the film unfolds.
Director Cooper reunites with cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, they previously worked together on OUT OF THE FURNACE and BLACK MASS, and they really capture the look and feel of the frontier. It looks like it was predominantly naturally lit and often times during the night scenes the darkness really adds to the tension of a given moment. For a two-hour plus film it moves along at a nice pace. There never seems to be any fat and every scene serves a purpose. Cooper draws out every hidden nuance from the natural and convincing performances from his ensemble. His screenplay, adapted from the manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart, is a simple yet sprawling examination of hate-based hostility and the affects it has when pent up emotions are unleashed or worn proudly on one's sleeve.
Scott Cooper's HOSTILES is a compelling and thought-provoking western which features strong performances and some unsettling moments of stark and realistic violence. It certainly sets out to portray the old west as it was instead of the glorified and romanticized depiction which some movies and television shows tend to glamorize. Despite the times, the story's struggles and message is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 19th century. The question now is, like the characters in the film, are we even capable of looking beyond the surface and seeing what lies within.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal